Overview of Esther – Part 1
By Dennis Huebshman
The Jews celebrate several holidays such as Yom Kippur; Hanukah and Festival of the Booths. One celebration is called Purim after the base word Pur, or casting of lots. It is celebrated every year, and this year falls on February 28 (evening) through March 1 (evening). This celebration is directly done because of Queen Esther in the Bible.
Esther is the only book in the Bible that does not DIRECTLY mention God. However, the study of evil vs. good is throughout this book. It takes place after the Babylonian Captivity somewhere between 483 and 473 B.C. All the events are implied to have divine direction. Babylonian Captivity ended about 538 B.C. by Cyrus as given in Ezra and Nehemiah.
Key characters in this book are Queen Vashti, King Xerxes (Ahasuerus) son of a King named Darius, Mordecai, Esther also known as Hadassah and Haman. The story seems to all take place during a short period of time, but the beginning conflict actually started when the Jews left Egyptian bondage and went through the wilderness for 40 years. More on that later. (Note: Daniel died about 533 B.C. and was captive about 605-538. The Darius mentioned in here doesn’t appear to be the same as Xerxes’ father)
After the 70 years of captivity, many Jews chose not to go back to their original homes but stayed in Babylon. For most of the younger people, this was the only home they knew. The Jews originally went into captivity because they had turned their backs on God. Even though they fell out of fellowship with Him, He had not ceased to Love His people.
In this story, God works in the background to miraculously save His chosen people from total annihilation, just as He is prepared to do today.
Starting at the beginning, Xerxes throws a banquet that lasted about 6 months. When the time drew near to end the festival, the king held a special feast in Susa in the courtyard of the garden of the King’s palace that lasted 7 days
His queen, Vashti, gave a feast for the women of the palace. On the 7th. Day, the king was somewhat intoxicated, and called for his queen to come out to “display her beauty”. She refused, and this made him very mad. (PRIDE) It should be noted, it is not described in detail, but tradition says he wanted her to appear “unveiled” which was a disgrace in their culture. She did not want to be paraded around practically naked in front of a bunch of drunken men.
Anyway, Xerxes gets counseling from some of his princes, and has Vashti banished from his sight. He then began the process of getting another queen. The reason the princes advised him to banish her was because they believed all the women in the kingdom would take note of what she had done and refuse to obey their husbands as a tribute to her. History tells that Vashti during her banishment delivered a son of Xerxes so her pregnancy was another possibility why she refused to appear.
The word went out that all the virgins in the kingdom would be brought to the palace for the king to pick a new queen from among them. This was not an overnight thing. It was also not voluntary, and all young maidens were taken to the castle. Each woman had to wait 1 year before being brought before the king, going through a beautifying process.
Mordecai was a Jew that lived in the palace complex and was a slave to the king. He had a young cousin named Hadassah, but in the kings’ language was called Esther. She had a beauty that was pure and natural. When she was taken to the palace, Mordecai warned her not to reveal her Jewish heritage or his relationship with her. Both of her parents were dead, and Mordecai had taken her in as if she was his own daughter.
Mordecai was not an average Jew. His heritage went back to the tribe of Benjamin, and he belonged to the family of Kish – King Saul’s people. This will be expanded on further as we progress through the story.
Each maiden prior to going into the king would be allowed to pick any jewelry they wanted, and any clothing they wished to wear and any perfume they wished to use. When it came to Esther’s turn she insisted that Hagai (one of the king’s eunuchs) choose everything for her. She had found favor in his sight which implied that God was working here. (Similar to the way He worked with Joseph in Egypt.) He selected very modest jewelry and when she went into Xerxes, he loved her more than all the others, and named her to be the replacement of Vashti. The king gave a great feast in honor of Esther, and granted taxes be halted and gave out gifts during the celebration. Reminder, he did not know her heritage.
Mordecai usually sat at the king’s gate and two of the king’s eunuchs were nearby plotting the death of Xerxes. They did not know Mordecai could understand their language. Mordecai went to his cousin, the new queen, and told her of the plot. Esther immediately went to the king and told him of the plot and told him the information had come from Mordecai. There was an investigation and the charges were found to be true. The two were hanged. After this, it was recorded in the Book of Chronicles to be stored in the king’s library.
The next event in the book was Haman the agagite being promoted. He became second in command after the king. In his position, all persons below his rank were supposed to bow before him when he went by. All who were at the king’s gate did so except Mordecai which really made Haman angry.
Haman’s ancestry – a descendent of Esau, brother of Jacob. (Genesis 25) They formed the Amalekites who harassed the Jews constantly after the Jews left Egypt. In one famous battle in Exodus as long as Moses held up his arms, the Israelites would win. If he dropped his arms, the Amalekites would win. So, he had Aaron on one side and Hur on the other holding up his arms until victory was attained. God placed a curse on the Amalekites and vowed to take them out of existence because they would not help the Israelites during their trek to the Promised Land.
The next time we hear about them is during the reign of King Saul. (1 Samuel 15) He was told by God to annihilate the Amalekites totally including Agag their king and all their possessions. However, Saul disobeyed and spared Agag and kept part of the flocks and took plunder from them. Samuel finally executed Agag, but the king apparently bore offspring previously that weren’t killed. This was the official reason God took His glory from Saul and gave it to David. I’m sure Haman knew of his heritage, and because of it hated the Jews – especially Mordecai.
Because Mordecai refused to bow, Haman devises a plot to have all the Jews wiped out. I’m sure satan had a lot to do with Haman’s actions as he always has wanted to destroy God’s chosen people. This will be evident during the Tribulation in the last days before the return of Jesus. Anyway, Haman goes into the king and convinces him there is a group of people who did not keep the king’s laws and needed to be annihilated. He promised to place 10,000 talents of silver (about 375 tons) in the king’s treasury to cover the costs of doing this. His plan was to recover the costs by plundering the resources of the Jews throughout the kingdom after their defeat. The king without checking further gave his signet ring to Haman and told him to issue the order. The king’s pride took over rather than rational thinking. (Seems like something like this happened to a king in the book of Daniel that got Daniel thrown into a lion’s den.)
Next, the word went out to all the corners of the kingdom. There was about a 12 month delay because of the PUR or casting of lots by Haman that determined the date that far off. (Definitely God set the date to give enough time to prepare His people.)
Needless to say, there was great concern, fear, weeping and dressing in sackcloth and ashes by all the Jews. The order even directed the regular citizens to kill all the Jews on the day set by the proclamation. The Jews up to now were prohibited from possessing weapons.
Mordecai sat at the king’s gate in sackcloth and ashes, and word of this got to Esther. She sent a messenger to Mordecai to find out what was wrong. He told her about the proclamation and provided a copy for her. She sent word that there was nothing she could do. He sent word back to her that just because she had not revealed she was Jewish, she would not escape what was coming. If she did not act, relief and deliverance would come from somewhere else.
Esther sent word to Mordecai that the king had not called her for 30 days, and to approach him without an invitation could be a death sentence. However, she said she and her staff would fast for 3 days, and asked Mordecai to pass on to all the Jews to do the same. At the end of the 3 days, she said she would approach the king and if she was killed for this cause, so be it.
(Part 2 next)